Accolades upon accolades are being heaped on the company around Gaële Boghossian and Paulo Correia for their adaptation of Goethe’s masterwork
To put the immensity of Collectif 8’s accomplishment in perspective, a few numbers to begin with: the companion event to the annual Festival de Théâtre d’Avignon since 1966, the Avignon Off is one of the world’s biggest showcases of stage art. This year, no less than 1,538 plays in 133 venues vie for attention. If you are good, you may make it in the top 250 most noted plays. If you are excellent, you make it into the top 100. And if you are Collectif 8, you make it into the top 10 of the critics’ favourites.
After resounding back-to-back successes throughout France – Alice, La Religieuse, L’Ile des Esclaves, or Marginalia, to name but a few – the Nice-based company presents a remake of Faust that would have venerable old Goethe jump to his feet in excitement. As is Collectif 8’s hallmark, the play examines the deeper tissue and complexity society and humanity through a protagonist’s story.
Eminent profession and scientist Heinrich Faust takes a bitter look back on his life: as a scientist, he failed to acquire absolute knowledge, and as an aging man, he has lost his appetite for life’s pleasures. In his despair to be delivered from such a dismal life, he enters into a pact with the Devil. Mephisto takes him on an extraordinary journey during which Faust discovers desire and power…. but it comes at a price…
Goethe’s haunting two-volume work poses the question of Good and Evil through Mephisto and Faust’s relationship but also by examining the protagonist’s soul, representative for all of humanity.
Written presumably between 1772 and 1775, Faust is a timeless cautionary tale of the destructive force of Power, fitting seamlessly into our troubled times where established social pattern are shredded and torn to pieces by just a handful of actors on the global stage, and where evil seems to win over values. His 18th century contemporaries largely considered Goethe a progressive weirdo, comparable with today’s American “Liberals” or European Greens, and his forward-thinking ideas were not always received kindly. But it would not take more than a couple of generations until Faust was hailed as “influencing little less than the Bible” by Paul Carus, German-American author and philosopher.
This pertinence is certainly at the root of Collectif 8’s current roaring success. But good material alone is never sufficient. Once again, the play is presented in C8’s trademark cinéâtre style, pairing stunning 3D video effects by Paulo Correia, the undisputable Grand Master of theatrical cinematography, with jarring music design, composed and performed by Clément Althaus, a luminary of his genre in his own right. Directed by the supremely gifted Gaële Boghossian who also adapted the piece, Paulo Correia and Clément Althaus deliver ever-impeccable acting performances, alongside Fabien Grenon and Mélissa Prat, both extraordinary talents. Theatre perfection down to the smallest, seemingly most trivial detail while never losing the entertaining and emotional aspect of stage art.
To tackle a chef d’œuvre of world literature like this one – which its author relentlessly rewrote, adapted, and corrected to bring out its true greatness – is courageous in itself. To reinvent is as originally as Collectif 8 has done it, is poetic madness and genius in one. This Faust is quite rightfully one of the critics’ and public’s great coups de cœur and one of the most talked-about and memorable theatrical events at the Off Avignon festival. If there is one regrettable note, it would be that this masterpiece will not be reperformed any time soon on Collectif 8’s home turf on the French Riviera. For those currently in the Papal City, you may still catch it through July 27 at the 11 Gilgamesh Belleville. Other theatre aficionados across France, keep your eyes peeled for C8’s next tour.
What’s genuine, shall Posterity inherit.
J.W. von Goethe, Faust
Update 19 July: Following a security inspection Hall 1 of 11 Gilgamesh Theatre where Collectif 8 has been playing was closed as of today and all scheduled shows through the end of the Avignon Off Festival have been cancelled.
11 • GILGAMESH BELLEVILLE
11, bd Raspail
All images courtesy Collectif 8, photos © Meghann Stanley